Seal or Expunge a Criminal Record FAQ

Q. What is the difference between CARI and CORI?

A. The terms CARI and CORI are oftentimes used interchangeably but must be distinguished as they are two different records generated by two different databases, and do not contain all of the same information. Court Activity Record Information, or CARI, is the Probation Central File. It is an electronic record generated by the courts and contains court appearances for criminal cases and dispositions of both criminal convictions and non-convictions. CARI also includes juvenile delinquency and youthful offender information, sex offender registry information, care and protection information (i.e., neglected and abused children; parental termination), children requiring assistance information (i.e., disobedient, truant, runaway minors), and the statewide domestic violence database (i.e., records of civil 209A restraining orders and civil 258E harassment prevention orders). A simple analogy is to envision the CARI as the vinyl dome of the umbrella and the CORI as one of several spokes underneath the umbrella dome.

The CARI is available to law enforcement, judges and probation officers but, unlike the CORI, is not a public record. The CORI is the acronym for Criminal Offender Record Information and is simply your Massachusetts state criminal record (of the final case disposition, or outcome). The state agency responsible for maintaining and disseminating CORI is the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services ("DCJIS").

The acronyms CARI and CORI herein exclusively pertain to Massachusetts cases as other states will likely have another name for their own state record systems. The Office of the Commissioner of Probation ("OCP") creates and enters all probation and court activity records as part of its CARI database. The OCP then transmits the criminal history information in its CARI database to the DCJIS on a daily basis. It is therefore the DCJIS, and not the OCP, that disseminates CORI records to various requestors such as prospective employers, schools, landlords, etc. The OCP is, however, the state agency responsible for effectuating the sealing or expunging of criminal records from the two different databases.

Q. What information is in a CORI?

A. Your criminal record, or CORI, contains all criminal charges in which you appeared before a judge in a Massachusetts court. It includes pending charges, prior convictions, and also charges for which you were not convicted including a not guilty verdict, a dismissal, a continuance without a finding ending in a dismissal, or a nolle prosequi. CORI reports do not include pre-court information such as orders to show cause or arrest records. Your CORI only contains criminal information from the Massachusetts courts and does not contain out-of-state criminal information. For a detailed discussion on sealing or expunging your CORI, please visit the Seal or Expunge a Criminal Record page.

Q. What should I do if my CORI is inaccurate?

A. When reviewing your CORI, you may find that identifying information such as your date of birth or the spelling of your name, a listed offense, the case disposition or case status is incorrect or incomplete. You might discover that the CORI contains offenses that do not belong to you, meaning that you could be the victim of clerical error or identity fraud. Because the OCP is the agency that created the database, it is the only agency that can correct this information. The DCJIS has implemented a complaint process to assist aggrieved individuals in correcting their CORI. The DCJIS will conduct an investigation and may also contact other law enforcement agencies including the court and police departments for additional information on the alleged inaccurate offenses. Although the DCJIS cannot amend or correct a CORI, it will contact the OCP to determine if it is able to amend the CORI based on the information provided, and the DCJIS will notify you in writing of the complaint status. This law office can also possibly circumvent and expedite this process for clients sealing their record.

Q. Who can see my CORI report?

A. Besides you, many different organizations, businesses, agencies and individuals can see some or all of the criminal information on your CORI. All criminal justice agencies including the police, judges, probation officers, and prosecutors can see your CORI at any time. If you were convicted of a crime, victims or witnesses of that crime can also see your CORI.

Organizations and agencies that work with the elderly, disabled, or children are required by law to do a CORI background check on their employees and volunteers. Some of these entities include nursing homes, assisted living facilities, child care and after school programs, preschools, schools, colleges, training and education programs, summer camps, hospitals, health care centers, medical offices, and government agencies serving these populations. Adoptive and foster parents must also subject themselves to CORI background checks. Banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, and companies that hire security guards, amusement ride operators, security system installers, and private investigators must do a CORI check on their employees. Parents can request CORI reports for a child care provider. Housing agencies screen tenants for public and subsidized housing. Private employers and private landlords are given Standard Access to CORI to screen potential employees and tenants.

Q. What information on my CORI can be accessed and by whom?

A. Whether or not an organization is required by law or otherwise permitted to perform a CORI background check, the amount of information disseminated in a CORI report depends upon the requestor's grant of access. Therefore, the type of information included in a CORI report depends on the category of the organization, agency or person requesting the CORI report. The categories of access are Personal Access; Required Access - Levels 1-4; Standard Access; and Open Access. The DCJIS has delineated the categories of access and the CORI records included in each category. The general public, including most CORI requestors, employers, schools, and landlords, do not have access to sealed record information.

Q. Can the general public see my Open Access CORI report?

A. Yes. The open access provisions of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 6, §172, permits anyone in the general public to see certain convictions on a report called "Open Access CORI" by simply completing the applicable request form downloaded from http://www.mass.gov/eopss/docs/chsb/open-access-form.pdf and paying a $50.00 fee. The information contained in an Open Access CORI includes misdemeanor convictions within the past one year, jail time served within the past one year for prior misdemeanor convictions, felony convictions within the past two years, and jail time served within the past two years for prior felony convictions. If you were convicted of a felony that was serious enough to carry punishment of up to 5 years in a state prison, the public can see it for 10 years after the date of conviction or the release from jail or prison, whichever is later. A conviction for murder, manslaughter or certain sex crimes can be seen forever unless the record of the charge is sealed.

Q. What can employers ask me and what do they have to provide to me?

A. Most employers are not allowed to ask you about your criminal history on an initial job application. The employer may access your CORI after the initial job application if you provide your written agreement to a CORI check, the employer verifies your identity, and the employer certifies under oath that the reason for the CORI request is to evaluate a current or prospective employee. Employers can then request a copy of your CORI using the online iCORI service.

Employers are not allowed to ask you to bring in a copy of your own CORI. Your copy may include information that they are not permitted to see or consider in their evaluation. If an employer questions you about your CORI or decides not to hire you based on it, the employer must give you a copy of the CORI report. The employer must also give you a chance to fix any mistakes in the report.

Q. Can employers get other types of criminal background reports?

A. This is possible. Some employers use criminal background checks from private Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) in addition to, or instead of, CORI reports. Criminal background reports from private companies may include records that are sealed, records that have not been updated, out-of-state records, and other information not found in your CORI. If an employee uses a CRA report, the employer must give you a free copy of the report and an opportunity to fix any mistakes in the report. While it may not be possible to prevent this type of information from being disseminated, sealing your CORI and, if applicable, updating your FBI arrest record, will afford you the best protection available from the vast majority of employers and other requestors. For a detailed discussion on updating and correcting FBI records, please visit the Updating and Correcting FBI Arrest-Fingerprint Records page.

Q. What is the difference between sealing and expunging a criminal record?

A. There is a clear distinction between sealing and expunging a record. While the sealing of criminal records is controlled by statutory law, the expunging of criminal records is controlled by governing case law. When a record is expunged, all traces of it disappear and nobody knows that it ever existed in the first place. Everything associated with the expunged case, such as complaints, arraignments, fingerprints, photographs, police reports and arrest registers all literally vanish when a record is expunged. When a criminal record is sealed, it does not disappear but merely becomes unavailable to the general public. Sealed records are segregated and confidentiality is ensured. Unlike an expunged criminal record, a sealed criminal record continues to be available to law enforcement officials such as the police, probation officers and courts, and to certain other government agencies, and can be considered in hiring, plea bargain negotiations and sentencing.

The expunging of a criminal record is permitted only in the limited instance in which you were the victim of identity fraud. In the rare situation where your identity was wrongfully assumed by another person and a criminal record was created in your name based on the false identity, when in fact you were not the true perpetrator of the crime, the expunging of the criminal record is the more appropriate remedy. Arguably unfair, expunging your record is not allowed if you were mistakenly charged with committing a crime, and sealing is considered to be the proper remedy.

In contrast to criminal records, restraining order records can only be expunged. Similar to criminal records, they can be expunged only in a limited, albeit different, instance. The potentially damaging civil record of a vacated or expired 209A Abuse Prevention Order or a 258E Harassment Prevention, both commonly referred to as "restraining orders," remain in the Statewide Domestic Violence Registry database (as maintained under CARI) as well as in several other state and federal databases for law enforcement purposes, and can be expunged if shown by clear and convincing evidence that fraud was perpetrated upon the court to cause it to wrongfully issue the order. For a detailed discussion on expunging 209A and 258E restraining orders, please visit the Expunge a Restraining Order Record page.

Q. Will an employer know that my CORI is sealed?

A. No and, then again, maybe in limited instances. Only criminal justice agencies, including law enforcement, and very few others have access to sealed record information. There is a myth that, if an employer requests a CORI from the DCJIS, the CORI report will include an "S" or somehow otherwise indicate that the record is sealed. This is simply not true. The CORI report provided to an employer is not the same as the one that it available to law enforcement or probation officers. Unless the employer or agency is specially authorized to access sealed criminal records, the CORI report will indicate that you have no record.

Q. Can my record be sealed before the statutory 5- and 10-year waiting periods?

A. Possibly. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, §100C permits a judge to seal a criminal record "early" so long as you were not convicted of the crime. Therefore, it is in the judge’s discretion to order the record of a criminal charge originally disposed of in in that particular court to be sealed before the required statutory 5-year (for a misdemeanor) and 10-year (for a felony) waiting times mandated under §100A if the criminal charge ended in a dismissal, a nolle prosequi, or a finding of not guilty or no probable cause, if the court finds that "substantial justice" would be served by sealing the record. A first-time drug possession conviction also may be sealed without a waiting period under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 94C, §34.

Determining substantial justice requires that a judge look at the reason for the dismissal or nolle prosequi and the risk of specific harm to you if the record is not sealed. The judge must find credible evidence of a "disadvantage" at the present time or in the foreseeable future related to your CORI, and that there is a "good cause" to seal your record that outweighs any common-law presumption of public access to it. There are numerous factors to be weighed and any one of them can be favorably or unfavorably determinative. If the motion and petition to seal the record are allowed, the judge must make specific findings on the record that set forth the interests considered and the reasons for the order to seal.

The law says nothing about how early you can seek to seal your record under these circumstances. Accordingly, you can and should seek to seal your record as soon as it is practical and reasonable. In many instances, this will be near the time when the case is dismissed or otherwise ends favorably.

Q. Can my juvenile criminal records be sealed?

A. Yes. Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 276, §100B has a 3-year statutory waiting period to seal juvenile criminal records if the juvenile was found not delinquent, adjudicated delinquent, or adjudicated as a youthful offender. The juvenile record can be sealed provided that any court appearance or disposition including court supervision, probation, commitment, imprisonment, or parole terminated not less than 3 years prior to the request to seal the juvenile criminal record. You can request to have your juvenile criminal record sealed while you are still a juvenile, immediately after you become an adult, or well into your adult years. Irrespective, you must not have been adjudicated delinquent or committed (while a juvenile) or found guilty or imprisoned (while an adult) of any crime in any state in the 3 years preceding the request to seal, except for motor vehicle offenses in which the penalty is $50.00 or less.

Q. Who has access to my juvenile criminal records?

A. A court's juvenile delinquency files are never open to the public regardless of whether the cases are sealed. Youthful offender case files are always open to the public unless they are sealed. While access to juvenile court records is more limited than access to adult records, law enforcement, some employers, and certain agencies have access to juvenile records. Therefore, juvenile cases that are not dismissed prior to arraignment have potential consequences for the rest of the juvenile's life, irrespective of whether the youth was charged as a juvenile delinquent or as a youthful offender.

Criminal justice agencies including police, probation and courts have automatic access to juvenile records, including sealed records, as necessary to perform their duties. The Department of Children and Families ("DCF") and the Department of Youth Services ("DYS") have access to juvenile records, including sealed record data, for purposes of evaluating individuals as adoptive or foster parents. The Department of Early Education and Care, which screens daycare employees, has pretty much the same access for youths and adults who apply for jobs or volunteer opportunities. The Massachusetts Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement has access to certain juvenile record information, but not to sealed records.

Summer camps have access to juvenile records unless the record is sealed. The categories of employers that have access to juvenile records, unless the record is sealed, include agencies providing home or health-related services to elderly or disabled persons, organizations that employ or refer personal care attendants, schools regarding current or prospective employees or volunteers, organizations that provide services or programs to children 18 or under, certain taxicab services for students, the Department of Telecommunications and Cable and the Department of Public Utilities to screen bus driver applicants for school age children or students, and the Commissioner of Banks regarding applicants for licensure. In addition, a crime victim, witness or family member of a homicide victim can access the juvenile record of an accused defendant or one that was convicted (i.e., adjudicated) as a youthful offender. Finally, the restrictions on the dissemination of a juvenile record cease to exist at the death of the individual.

Q. Can all criminal charges be sealed?

A. No. Certain criminal offenses cannot be sealed, but only if you were found guilty of the offense. Convictions under M.G. L. c. 268 or 268A (governing crimes against public justice and the conduct of public officials and employees) and convictions under M.G.L. c. 140, §§121 to 131H (certain firearms offenses) are ineligible to be sealed. Just a few examples of these offenses include resisting arrest, perjury, witness intimidation, disruption of court proceedings, bribery of public officials, delivering drugs to prisoners, unauthorized purchase of firearms, carrying of firearms in a vehicle, possession of firearms by aliens, selling or illegally furnishing a gun to a minor, selling ammunition, etc. Again, it is important to remember that a non-conviction of an otherwise non-sealable offense can be sealed under the applicable sealing laws, so any of these particular criminal charges will be sealing eligible if the criminal charge ended in a dismissal, a nolle prosequi, or a finding of not guilty or no probable cause. A level 2 or level 3 sex offender is not eligible to have those sex offenses sealed. It should be noted that having a conviction record for an offense that cannot be sealed does not automatically disqualify you from sealing other cases that are eligible to be sealed.

Q. Can criminal records of restraining order violations be sealed?

A. Yes. However, the sealing of criminal violations of restraining orders is subject to a special provision in the law that is specific to both 209A abuse prevention orders and 258E harassment prevention orders. While the violation of a restraining order is a misdemeanor offense, it is treated like a felony offense for purposes of sealing the criminal record under M.G.L. c. 276, §100A and therefore subject to the 10-year eligibility requirement to seal felonies, and not the 5-year eligibility requirement to seal misdemeanors. This arguably unfair treatment of restraining order violations applies only to convictions for violating restraining orders and those cases that did not result in a conviction are eligible to be sealed earlier subject to the provisions of M.G.L. c. 276, §100C. It is important to distinguish that this applies only to criminal restraining order violations and not to the actual entry of the restraining order itself, which is civil in nature and therefore recorded in a separate part of the CARI under the Statewide Domestic Violence Registry database.

Q. Can criminal records of sex offense be sealed?

A. Yes. However, under M.G.L. c. 276, §100A, convictions of sex offenses charged under M.G.L. c. 6, §178C are not eligible to be sealed for 15 years from the date of disposition, which includes termination of supervision, probation, or any period of incarceration, or for so long as the individual is under a duty to register as a sex offender in Massachusetts or in any other state where the offender resides, or would be under such a duty if residing in Massachusetts, whichever is longer. Additionally, any sex offender who was classified at either level 2 or level 3 is not eligible to seal such classified sex offense from the CORI. Past status as a level 2 or 3 sex offender only precludes the sealing of that sex offense conviction but does not bar the sealing of other eligible cases once the person no longer has to register as a sex offender. A sex offense that did not result in a conviction is eligible to be sealed earlier subject to the provisions of M.G.L. c. 276, §100C.

Q. Are sealed records available to criminal justice agencies?

A. Yes. Criminal justice agencies can see sealed adult records and sealed juvenile delinquency records pursuant to M.G.L. c. 276, §100D, which provides for "immediate access" to records, including sealed records. In accordance with M.G.L. c. 6, §172(a)(1), "criminal justice agencies may obtain all criminal offender record information, including sealed records, for the actual performance of their criminal justice duties."

Q. Should I seal my criminal record if I am not a United States citizen?

A. Maybe. Sealing your criminal record requires an understanding of the potential immigration consequences. It is obviously safest to seal your CORI only when you have been approved and sworn in as a citizen of the United States, but you may need to seal your record for compelling reasons such as obtaining housing or employment prior to obtaining citizenship. You should never seal your criminal record to improve eligibility for an immigration benefit because you cannot say that you have no record in immigration applications or proceedings even if your record is sealed, and sealing does not eliminate the conviction or other case disposition for immigration purposes.

Once again, sealing your CORI does not eliminate a criminal record for immigration purposes, and a sealed record can potentially complicate an immigration case by making required documents unavailable or difficult to obtain. You should always obtain "certified" copies of your CORI, criminal docket sheets, criminal complaints, police reports and any other relevant information, before sealing your criminal record since this information will not be available to you once your record is sealed, unless you go through the painstakingly and costly process of successfully unsealing your record. It might also be prudent to order a copy of the audio-recordings from the District Courts and a copy of the digital transcript from the Superior Court.

Many of the post-sealing problems that a noncitizen faces can likely be eliminated with proper pre-sealing advice from a competent immigration attorney, and it is highly recommended that you seek such advice.

Q. Why should I seal my criminal record?

A. Having a criminal record carries a great personal stigma. People with criminal records are denied jobs, housing, and other opportunities for economic stability and social mobility. Indeed, even a criminal charge that ends in a dismissal or acquittal can harm a person's reputation and job prospects. Your CORI may be a barrier to participation in an internship, training, or educational program. It is not unusual for reentry and job counselors to advise you to seal your criminal record. For example, nursing homes, schools and similar providers who hire staff and interns are required to obtain CORI for applicants and have access to your "unsealed" CORI data, including cases that ended favorably in a dismissal, a nolle prosequi, or a not guilty finding. The availability of criminal record sealing is an indispensable part of the system for administration of criminal justice given the nature and far-reaching consequences of having a criminal record. The purpose of sealing criminal records is to promote access to employment, housing, and other opportunities that are necessary for the rehabilitation of defendants and to protect the privacy of individuals.

There may be numerous different reasons to seal a criminal record, but the most common reason and principal benefit is that you may state on an employment application that you have no record of arrest or conviction, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must corroborate this statement. In responding to inquiries from requestors, the DCJIS shall report that no record exists. However, you should be cautioned that federal arrest records, such as FBI arrest records, are not sealed when the Massachusetts state record is sealed and you could possibly have other concerns if you were arrested and fingerprinted during the booking process. For a detailed discussion on updating and correcting FBI records, please visit the Updating and Correcting FBI Arrest-Fingerprint Records page.

A sealed record shall not disqualify you from application or appointment for public service in Massachusetts. It may not be admitted into evidence in a court proceeding, or hearings before boards or commissions, except in limited instances in which the sealed record is used to impose juvenile or adult criminal sentences.